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André-Ernest-Modeste GRÉTRY (1741-1813)
Le Magnifique (1773) [80:00]
Octave - Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (tenor); Clémentine - Elizabeth Calleo (soprano); Alix - Marguerite Krull (soprano); Aldobrandin - Jeffrey Thompson (tenor); Fabio - Karim Sulayman (tenor); Laurence - Douglas Williams (bass-baritone); Horace - Randall Scarlata (baritone)
Opera Lafayette/Ryan Brown
rec. Dekelboum Hall, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, USA, 6-8 February 2011
synopsis included in booklet and full sung text and translation available on Naxos website
NAXOS 8.660305 [80:00]

The list of operas by Grétry is long but even among opera enthusiasts the majority will be as unfamiliar with all but two or three as they would have been half a century ago with the similarly long list of operas by Handel. This welcome issue will help to remedy this although there is still a very long way to go before it will be possible to form any real estimate of the musical or dramatic worth of his output.
 
Le Magnifique has a text by Jean-Michel Sedaine which concerns a merchant, Horace, and his servant who were captured by pirates and sold into slavery. At the start of the opera they return home, having been secretly purchased by Octave, (Le Magnifique), who is in love with Horace’s daughter, Clémentine. Her tutor, Aldobrandin, also wants to marry her and the plot concerns his various unsuccessful attempts to achieve this by trickery.
 
As you would expect from this composer, the music is unfailingly well made and elegant, but at times it goes much further than that. The Overture depicts a procession of captives, and the scene in which Clémentine is wooed by Octave but is forbidden from replying is very touching. The opera contains a wonderful succession of varied solos and ensembles, all delightfully written for the voices and instruments although the preponderance of high voices can lead to some monotony of texture at times. This would be likely to be of less importance in stage performance where they would be separated by spoken dialogue. Recorded dialogue can however be wearisome, and perhaps the best solution for the listener is simply to pause between the airs, savouring each before continuing with the next.
 
The performance is admirably stylish, with singers and orchestra all fully attuned to the French style of this period. I note that the conductor, Ryan Brown, is also responsible for preparing the edition used here but that the orchestra play from facsimiles of the original parts. Maybe their high degree of alertness is a result of the extra effort that this is likely to have involved.
 
Naxos have also contributed to the listener’s enjoyment by including lengthy notes on the librettist, composer and opera as well as a detailed synopsis. Admittedly there is no printed text or translation but given the very good notes and the well-filled disc it is perhaps acceptable for them to be available from their website on this occasion.
 
All in all this disc offers a very welcome opportunity to get to know another work by one of the great but still little known masters of eighteenth century opera.  

John Sheppard

Experience Classicsonline